Will new Marine jets bring new noise levels to Beaufort?

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

Officials at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort say they expect "the sound of freedom" to be on the minds of many local residents when a report is released later this month detailing how the military's newest fighter jet will be used at Fighertown.

"The noise aspect of this new aircraft is probably at the forefront of the process," said Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen, air station spokesman.

When the report is released later this month describing how the Corps plans to divide 13 Joint Strike Fighter Squadrons between Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and MCAS Cherry Point, N.C., officials won't know exactly how loud the new jets will be.

Extensive noise testing on the Marine Corps' variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, or the F-35B, has not been done, but the roar of the new fighter jet won't be substantially louder than the F-18 Hornets already flying overhead, according to a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor building the jet.

The F-35A, a conventional take-off and landing version of the jet being built for the Air Force, creates between 83 decibels and 90 decibels of noise, according an Air Force environmental study released in October 2008. The same study showed that the noise created by the F-35A flying at 1,000 feet is three decibels louder than the F-18s flown by pilots at MCAS Beaufort at the same altitude.

According to Navy officials, a three-decibel change in aircraft noise would be "barely perceptible."

John Kent, Lockheed Martin spokesman, said the noise generated by the F-35A will be similar to the short take-off, vertical-landing variant of the jet being built for the Corps.

"In a fly-over, it will be essentially identical (to the F-35A)," Kent said. "The F-35B has the same engine as the other two variants, though it obviously has the lift and propulsion system that could make a difference."

The impact of the jet's noise on areas near MCAS Beaufort likely will hinge on the base's mission, which will determine how many jets are stationed in Beaufort and how often they are flown.

In addition to examining the jet's effects on noise and the base's compatible-use zone, the report will detail how the Corps plans to divvy up 10 operational squadrons, one reserve squadron and two training squadrons between Beaufort and Cherry Point.

MCAS Beaufort could receive all of the training squadrons, none of the operational squadrons or a combination of both types, according to a notice published in the Federal Register.

According to the Corps, MCAS Beaufort could become the home of 40 to 176 F-35s. The jets are expected to arrive in 2014 or 2015.